Here's a tip for all of you private jet owners: Sell your plane! If you're looking for luxury, you don't need your own plane anymore, you can simply fly with Etihad Airways (that's "et-ee-aahd," which means "united" in Arabic). At only 10 years old, the luxury airline of the United Arab Emirates has quickly become one of the stars of the sky and offers first-class service that will far exceed anything found in your private jet. Does your aircraft offer pajama sets and bathrobes trimmed in Swarovski crystals? Can you select your entrees off a menu cooked to order by a personal chef?
Etihad is working to bring renowned chefs into the air with their Chefs in Flight offerings, whipping up culinary magic for Diamond Class passengers. The chef prepares meals for the eight or so first class passengers, using the finest ingredients available. Even the salt in the shakers is special, as it comes from Murray River in Victoria, Australia and is considered the best in the world. The pepper is equally distinguished and is from Tasmania, while the olive oil (frozen until it is served, for ultimate freshness) comes pressed from Monte Biviano, Italy.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the benefit of the Murray River salt, the Tasmanian pepper, or the Monte Biviano olive oil on my last flight — I was on the Pearl Business Class on our round trip from JFK to Abu Dhabi. But rest assured, the Pearl service isn't exactly shabby.
As we got on the B777-300 aircraft the attendants offered champagne and presented us with diverse menus, our meals served at the time of our choosing. Selections included chili crabmeat tian for a starter, Arabic spiced lamb ouzi with cinnamon rice and vegetable stuffed tomato, a selection of international cheeses and chocolate, and cardamom and orange pudding served with rosewater custard.
All of these could be accompanied by a choice of six different wines from all over the world, in addition to cocktails, beers and liqueurs, eight different teas and six different coffees. And if you're still hungry after all that, the business class Kitchen Anytime menu offers steak sandwiches, salads, ice creams and other sweets, and soft drinks that you can indulge in between the other meals.
We sat on seats made of the same leather that Ferrari uses for its luxury cars, and these seats not only have built-in massage features, but turn into lie-flat beds with blue and white striped velvet puffs and pillows. The lighting on the aircraft has been specially designed to ease your eyes when taking off, flying, and landing. At night, cabin ceilings are even dotted with tiny twinkling lights that resemble the constellations.
If you're worried about a language barrier between yourself and the flight attendants, fear not, because they all speak an incredible number of languages. On the flight over, the announcement noted that attendants could speak Arabic, English, Italian, Romanian, Filipino and French. My personal attendant, Yip Suetyee of Malasia, spoke Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Hakian and Hakka.
Even more impressive, Etihad has flying nannies, which makes family travel relaxing for the parents and enjoyable for the kids. Every long-haul flight has a nanny on board who moves throughout every class on the plane and will take charge of your children while you sleep, work, or simply relax. On our flight, nanny Megan McLaughlin of Scotland stood at the door and offered parents help with their carry-on bags. She had already taken meal orders from the older children while they were still on the ground, so they didn't have to wait to eat once they were in the sky.
"This allows the parent of a toddler who is flying alone to go to the bathroom by herself, which is much appreciated," McLaughlin laughed, armed with milk, diapers, and all the materials needed to make funny hats and paint faces.
Let me remind you one last time, this is all in a Pearl Business Class — not even the top of the pile! I stayed in Abu Dhabi for a week, being delighted by the sights and sounds of the emirate while there, but trust me, I was definitely looking forward to the decadent pleasures of that return flight. How many airlines can you say that about?